Global agriculture is facing major challenges to ensure global food security, such as the need to breed high-yielding crops adapted to future climates and the identification of dedicated feedstock crops for biofuel production (biofuel feedstocks). Plant phenomics offers a suite of new technologies to accelerate progress in understanding gene function and environmental responses. This will enable breeders to develop new agricultural germplasm to support future agricultural production. In this review we present plant physiology in an 'omics' perspective, review some of the new high-throughput and high-resolution phenotyping tools and discuss their application to plant biology, functional genomics and crop breeding. Crown Copyright © 2011. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.